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Africa Cup of Nations

Hat-trick hero Nsue makes AFCON history, Salah suffers injury

Nsue makes AFCON history, Nigeria thwart Ivory Coast & Egypt play out a stalemate with Ghana

The stakes went up a notch as the second round of group games kicked off at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) on Thursday.

Goals, surprises and a historic hat-trick encapsulate an action-packed matchday that rocked Abidjan, leaving fans and neutrals asking for more of the same.

Group A: Equatorial Guinea 4-2 Guinea-Bissau

A six-goal thriller at the Olympic Stadium of Ebimpe saw Emilio Nsue score a historic hat-trick to help Equatorial Guinea register a crucial 4-2 victory over Guinea-Bissau.

Both sides needed a win to bolster their chances of qualifying for the knockouts ahead of the final round, so it was unsurprising that they delivered an end-to-end contest.

Guinea-Bissau started the game on the front foot. But Equatorial Guinea broke the deadlock in the 21st minute, with Nsue pouncing on a lapse in concentration from Janio Bikel before converting a one-on-one finish.

Josete Miranda then came close to doubling Equatorial Guinea’s lead only a matter of minutes later, but his ambitious cross-shot could only meet the crossbar.

The next goal was always going to be crucial, and Guinea-Bissau were fortunate it went their way as a 37th-minute own goal from Esteban Orozco levelled matters.

The comeback then seemed to be on when the referee awarded a penalty for what seemed like a clumsy foul on Franculino Dju. But VAR intervened, offering Equatorial Guinea a reprieve they would eventually capitalise on.

Barely a minute into the second half, Miranda volleyed his side back ahead before Nsue got his second of the game, slotting home a delicious back post cross from Basilio Ndong.

Equatorial Guinea had Guinea-Bissau on the ropes, and Nsue completed his historic hat-trick via another clinical one-on-one finish, becoming the oldest player in AFCON history to achieve the feat.

Ze Turbo popped up with a late consolation deep in second-half stoppage-time for Guinea-Bissau, but it ultimately had no impact on the contrast of emotions at full-time. 

The comprehensive victory propelled Equatorial Guinea to the top of Group A, level on points with Nigeria, who will face Guinea-Bissau in their final group fixture.

Group A: Ivory Coast 1-0 Nigeria

William Troost-Ekong’s second-half penalty handed Nigeria a narrow 1-0 victory over AFCON hosts Ivory Coast, ending the Elephants’ nine-match unbeaten streak.

An electrifying start to the game saw African Player of the Year Victor Osimhen send a guilt-edged chance over the crossbar before Nigerian goalkeeper Stanley Nwabili produced a fine stop to deny Christian Kouame from close range.

Having played out a draw in their opening fixture, the Super Eagles desperately needed maximum points against the hosts, who would have guaranteed their place in the knockouts with a win.

The first goal was always going to be crucial in such a high-stakes fixture, but both sides prioritised the defensive side of their game.

Nigeria broke the deadlock ten minutes into the second half, with ex-Watford defender Troost-Ekong rifling home a penalty after Osimhen was fouled by the highly sought-after Ousmane Diomande. 

Their solid rearguard ultimately stood firm to repel wave after wave of Ivory Coast pressure, ensuring a much-needed victory as the hosts went the entire second half without mustering a shot on target.

The result blows Group A wide open, and none of the top three teams can afford complacency heading into the final round of the group phase.

Group B: Egypt 2-2 Ghana

West Ham United star Mohammed Kudus stole the spotlight despite facing off with Liverpool talisman Mohamed Salah after netting a double in his AFCON debut.

However, his heroics weren’t enough to secure a win for Ghana, whose chances of securing a place in the knockouts now hang in the balance after a pulsating 2-2 draw against Egypt.

Ghana’s shock defeat to Cape Verde on Sunday meant that three points were paramount for them in Abidjan if they were to avoid an extremely nervy final Group B encounter against Mozambique. 

After an end-to-end first half, Ghana were handed a major boost in first-half stoppage time as Egypt captain Salah went off with a muscle injury, although he had struggled to influence proceedings.

Barely a minute after Salah’s exit, Kudus rifled home a remarkable 25-yard effort to hand the Black Stars a vital lead heading into the break.

Egypt had a tough task on their hands, but they were gifted an equaliser as Omar Marmoush pounced on an awful backpass from Inaki Williams before rounding Richard Ofori and tucking home with aplomb. 

Kudus restored Ghana’s lead just two minutes later, beating Mohamed El Shenawy via a deflection off the unfortunate Mohamed Abdelmonem. 

However, more defensive madness from the Ghanaian backline saw ex-Aston Villa man Mahmoud Trezeguet dispossess Osman Bukari before setting up Mostafa Mohamed to poke home.

For all their endeavours, both sides failed to snatch the all-important winning goal and will head into the final round knowing nothing but maximum points will do for their AFCON ambitions.

Today’s fixtures

Cape Verde vs Mozambique – 2:00 pm (GMT)

Cape Verde will be out to seal their place in the knockout phase when they take on a spirited Mozambique side who came agonisingly close to victory over Egypt last time out.

The Blue Sharks face Egypt in their final group fixture, and going into that game without the pressure of needing a result could be the perfect backdrop for a potential knockout tie.

Senegal vs Cameroon – 5:00 pm (GMT)

Charles Konan Banny Stadium forms the backdrop for today’s headline fixture as AFCON holders Senegal square off against Cameroon.

The stakes are higher for Cameroon after their previous 1-1 draw against Guinea. With a knockout place on the line, they must end Senegal’s five-match unbeaten streak to bolster their chances of qualification.

Guinea vs The Gambia – 8:00 pm (GMT)

Looking to build on their positive start to the 2023 AFCON, Guinea will trade tackles with Group C bottom feeders The Gambia.

The National Elephants would be brimming with confidence after avoiding defeat against Cameroon last time out but must repeat that performance to avoid getting stung by The Scorpions.

How to watch?

All AFCON games are broadcast live on Sky Sports in the United Kingdom. Numerous other live football streaming websites will allow you to watch the tournament in real time regardless of your location.

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